07/31/12 8:00pm
07/31/2012 8:00 PM

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | The NOFO Rock & Folk Fest at Peconic Bay Winery was one attempt to bring live music to the North Fork.

At the risk of stirring up some of those old “Troy has South Fork envy” complaints that arose many years ago when I compared downtown Greenport unfavorably to downtown Sag Harbor, this week I wish to discuss the distinct differences between Long Island’s two forks when it comes to presenting live music.

At its most elemental level, it comes down to this: How come the Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center is so vital but Riverhead’s Suffolk Theatre remains stuck in neutral several decades after it was first proposed as a performing arts center?

Or why does East Hampton’s Stephen Talkhouse nightclub consistently attract nationally acclaimed performers while North Fork venues present mostly local talent.

Call me negative, but when I think of live music here I think mostly of what might have been. Like the several hundred hearty souls who attended the East End Arts Council’s Delbert McClinton concert at the Talmage farm on Sound Avenue in Baiting Hollow.

Or the disappointing turnouts (to me, at least) at the first two NOFO Music Festivals at Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue — although festival organizer Josh Horton has a more upbeat interpretation of that experience, as expressed in his comments below. Or the suspension for one year of the Riverhead Blues Festival, followed by a 2012 resumption that left the sponsor, Vail-Leavitt Music Hall, thousands of dollars in the red.

There have been some limited successes, of course. Like the short-lived rock and roll shows promoter Preston Powell once brought to the movie theater in Greenport. Or the generally low-key musical performances that have become standard at North Fork vineyards. (Said one wag I surveyed on this question: “It’s just that those bands all work for less than $200.”)

Or the live music offerings of The Arts in Southold Town — although even that volunteer-based organization was forced to disband in part because of the rigors of presenting.

Also on the plus side of the ledger, says East End Arts executive director Pat Snyder, is “the success of Winterfest Jazz on the Vine, which drew an estimated 7,500 people to the North Fork in the dead of winter. Even though vineyards were not built for performance,” she continues, “we make the best of it (along with a really good glass of wine) and enjoy world-class music. Last winter we had at least six Grammy-winning or -nominated musicians. The audience came from well beyond the Suffolk County borders. I believe it’s a matter of knowing who we are as an area and leveraging those qualities.”

What it comes down to — most of the people I’ve spoken to seem to agree — is geography and demographics.

Geographically speaking, Westhampton is much more accessible to the hundreds of thousands of potential customers who live in Brookhaven and Southampton towns. What’s more, as another friend points out, somewhat defensively, “While North Forkers will readily go to the South Side for stuff, those people often feel like they’re taking their lives in their own hands to come north.”

Demographically speaking, there’s significantly more wealth and a younger audience on the South Fork. The kind of wealth, in the form of corporate sponsorships and individual donations, that can help underwrite operating losses at the performing arts center in Westhampton.

And the kind of audience that most likely will sell out upcoming shows for such big name acts as Rufus Wainwright, Joe Walsh, Pat Metheny and k.d. lang. And with ticket prices ranging from just under $100 to just under $150!

Price resistance is definitely a factor here on the North Fork. One-day passes to the NOFO Fest approached $50, and even at that comparatively low level there appeared to be resistance. That’s one of the reasons why NOFO will be reconstituted this summer as a concert series instead of a multiple-day festival.

Still, organizer Josh Horton chooses to place a more upbeat spin on the change of plans, saying it’s “not grounded in the difficulty of producing live music initiatives.” Nor was he discouraged by the response to the first two festivals.

Instead, he says, “There’s a tremendous opportunity and demand for quality live music. That’s what we experienced with the first two NOFO festivals in 2010 and ’11. But this year, we’re taking a slightly different approach. Instead of being all things to all people over the course of two days,” he said, NOFO will become a concert series that presents national acts in a “more intimate setting.” And at a significantly reduced price.

Case in point: the just-announced tribute to Levon Helm, the recently departed founding member of The Band, scheduled for 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 19, on the main lawn at Peconic Bay Winery. It will feature Helm’s daughter, Amy Helm, and the Dirt Farmer Band, which backed up Levon Helm on two award-winning albums. And tickets will be priced at just $20 in advance, $25 at the gate.

So instead of needing to sell 1,000 tickets, as they did with the larger festival, Josh said, they’ll need to sell 200 to 300.

“We want to make sure the focus is on the music,” he said, noting how the “time and focus spent on vendors and additional activities became a large part of the festival and diminished the focus on the music.”

So, North Fork music fans, it’s time to put your money where your mouth is. Let’s start small, with the purchase of a ticket or two for the Levon Helm show. And if that works out, we can start to think bigger, say the purchase and remodeling of the old Greenport Auditorium into a live contemporary music venue that makes the ghost of Stephen Talkhouse wish his Native American tribe had relocated to the North Fork.

tgustavson@timesreview.com

07/02/12 7:40am
07/02/2012 7:40 AM

The Long Island Gay Men’s Chorus made its North Fork debut Saturday at the Vail-Leavitt Music Hall in Riverhead.

The show “Hooray for Hollywood” featured music from 18 movies, including Working Girl, A Walk to Remember, and The Muppet movie.

Though everybody in the chorus is gay, aside from the pianist, executive director Walk Fishon said the organization doesn’t discriminate against straight singers joining in on their fun. 
”

“We put it this way — if you can hit the notes and sing on key, who are we to judge,” he said.

The Long Island Gay Men’s Chorus, a charitable organization, was established in 2008 and is led by artistic director Jeffrey Schneider, a native Long Islander who once served as the musical director for the Wading River community chorus.

Featured in the video above is a rendition of “The Rainbow Connection” from The Muppet Movie.

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | The Long Island Gay Men’s Chorus made its North Fork debut Saturday night.

06/04/12 8:09pm
06/04/2012 8:09 PM

COURTESY PHOTO | (Left to right) Chelsea Chizever, Hannah Keiffert, Shawn Klopfer, Amanda Gallo, and John Rios) with the trophies won at "Music in the Parks" in Hershey Park, Penn.

Students from the Riverhead High School Chamber Choir, Chamber Orchestra, and Jazz Ensemble took home five awards, including three first place trophies, during a music competition held in Hershey, Pa. on Saturday.

The annual Music in the Parks festival at Hershey Park featured 12 schools competing by performing in front of a panel of judges.

All three music groups won first place, with the Chamber Choir and the Chamber Orchestra earning a “superior” rating from the judges. The Chamber Choir also went on to win the Best Overall High School Choir award in the competition.

Sean Klopfer, a guitarist in the jazz band, also won an award for “outstanding soloist” in the competition.

05/02/11 12:00pm
05/02/2011 12:00 PM

DICK WATERMAN PHOTO The Rev. Gary Davis in Cambridge, Mass., in 1963. Rev. Davis, a blues and gospel singer and finger-picking guitarist who was an ordained Baptist minister, spent much of his career in North Carolina before the folk music revival in the 1960s.

Call it Americana, folk or roots music, traditional song is having a revival nationwide and on the East End. In Southold this weekend, that tradition will come alive in a performance and photo exhibition at Rothman’s Gallery on Southold’s Main Street.

On the walls there will be photos of young Bob Dylan and Joan Baez as they nervously wait to take the stage at a Cambridge, Mass. folk club. Of Joni Mitchell as she plays one of her intricate, astute-woman-in-a-young-girl’s-body signature songs. And of the many bluegrass and blues players who came to the northeast in the 1960s at a time when educated young people were beginning to take an interest in American musical traditions.

The collection is a portion of the New England Folk Music Archives collection, based in Cambridge and founded by Betsy Siggins, a former college roommate of Joan Baez and a friend of East End recording artist Caroline Doctorow.

Ms. Doctorow, who put Rothman’s Gallery owner Ron Rothman in touch with Ms. Siggins, will give a performance at the show’s opening this Saturday, May 7, from 5 to 7 p.m. Tickets are $10.

This is the second art and music pairing this year that Mr. Rothman has undertaken with Ms. Doctorow. The first was an opening for the work of pop artist Mike Stanko in February.

Mr. Rothman hopes that the show and the events surrounding it will serve as a reminder of the East End’s vibrant music scene, and as a birthday celebration for Bob Dylan, who turns 70 on May 24.

Mr. Rothman is hosting an open mic at Custer Institute in Southold from 7 to 10 p.m. on May 6, at which Ms. Siggins will speak about the history behind the photo collection. Participants are invited to bring in one of Mr. Dylan’s songs to sing and play.

“This is kind of becoming a big thing,” said Mr. Rothman “There’s just so much involved with this. Caroline hooked me up with the whole thing. We did an event here in February that was the most fun thing all winter.”

Mr. Rothman plans to host several other local singer-songwriters in his gallery throughout the photo exhibit, which closes on July 4 weekend. Rob Bruey and Fred Bredfrey will play in the gallery on June 4 and Job Potter will have a CD release party there on June 17.

Ms. Siggins, who lives in Cambridge, will be coming to Southold Friday afternoon with a collection of some of the photographs, which she didn’t always think of as archival material.

“It was just stuff you dragged around,” she said of the material that later became the New England Folk Music Archives, including both photographs and original recordings made when she worked at Club 47, a folk hot-spot on Harvard Square. Joan Baez, a former Boston University student, helped popularize folk music there, along with a cadre of folk musicians that included Ms. Siggins’ first husband, Bob Siggins, and a lanky banjo playing Harvard graduate named Pete Seeger.

“For some time I had 15 reel-to-reel tapes in a plastic bag, which would probably make any archivist shudder,” said Ms. Siggins.

Since she started the archives two years ago, after a long career in non-profit service and music promotion, Ms. Siggins has received help from Harvard University and the Grammy Foundation in restoring and digitizing her tapes. The center has also received a gift of the complete catalogue of the company’s recordings from roots music record label Rounder Records and will begin giving lessons on traditional instruments this spring.

“I was there when Club 47 was being born,” said Ms. Siggins. “I did some of the booking, was  on the board, I was a waitress. One did what one did. It gave us all a family. At 18 to 20 years old, we were running away from our biological families.

“It attracted a lot of students, but it was music by, of and for the people, somehow, when you crossed the threshold, there was no class distinction. People who would have never crossed paths with each other made lasting friendships through the music,” she said.

Another hallmark of the club was its open-door policy for blues musicians from the south, many of whom had marginal success decades earlier, but did not reach a northern audience until the folk revival in the 1960s.

“Doc Watson did his first northern performance in the club,” said Ms. Siggins. “There were a lot of people working for both the Smithsonian and the Newport Folk Festival Foundation who were doing what Alan Lomax had done, connecting with blues players who never left the south. We were stunned by the music. We didn’t know anything about their lives and this made us very aware of that.”

Many of the photographs of blues musicians in the show were taken by Dick Waterman, whom Ms. Siggins met at Club 47 in 1959.

“He was Bonnie Raitt’s manager and the single-handed savior of many of the portraits done of the black blues singers in the 1960s and 1970s,” she said. “To see his body of work in one place is one of the most memorable things I have.”

Bob Morey is another photographer whose work is prominently featured in the show. Ms. Siggins met him at a festival on the bank of the Charles River in Cambridge, when “he came walking by and said, ‘you know, I think I’ve got some negatives stored away,’” she said.

“That was the understatement of the decade,” she added. “He took tons of pictures at Club 47 and at the American Folk Music Festival in Boston in 1969. He had every single negative labeled and they were in impeccable shape. We’ve now made an individual exhibition of just the blues musicians he took pictures of.”

Also included in the show are photographs by Don West and Steve Nelson. Ms. Siggins said that she believed many photographers who documented the 1960s folk revival didn’t realize that anyone was interested in their work until the recent resurgence in popularity of folk music.

“In the ‘80s and ‘90s, people turned against folk. They said we weren’t interpreting real life, we were making stuff up based on older music. But people made it up in the 1100s. Almost everyone has started out interpreting other people’s music. That’s the folk process. That process is very open and embracing. It can be encouraged by being around a community place.”
Ms. Siggins hopes that this weekend, that community place will be Southold.

FOLK PHOTO EXHIBIT AND CAROLINE DOCTOROW PERFORMANCE
Open mic/Betsy Siggins talk May 6, 7 p.m.
Custer Institute
1115 Main Bayview Rd., Southold

Caroline Doctorow concert/Photo exhibit opening
Saturday, May 7, 5 to 7 p.m.
Rothman’s Gallery at Rothman’s Department Store
54100 Route 25, Southold
765-3770

02/20/11 9:58pm
02/20/2011 9:58 PM
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Jazz singer Jody Sandhaus and pianist Pete Malinverni played a sold out show Sunday at Diliberto Winery in Jamesport.

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Jazz singer Jody Sandhaus and pianist Pete Malinverni played a sold out show Sunday at Diliberto Winery in Jamesport.

Jazz singer Jody Sandhaus and pianist Pete Malinverni played a sold out show Sunday at Diliberto Winery in Jamesport. Times/Review reporter Jennifer Gustavson was there with her camera.

Click here to see our slide show.

02/20/11 9:54pm
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